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Hawkins v. Jenkins

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

August 28, 2019


          On Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 4 Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. CC-18-01539-D

          Before Justices Schenck, Osborne, and Reichek



         Lisa Hawkins appeals the trial court's dismissal of her suit for eviction brought against her uncle, Michael Jenkins, and his wife, Wanda. In two issues, Hawkins contends the trial court erred in dismissing her case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Because we conclude the right to immediate possession may be determined separately from any issue of title in this case, we reverse the trial court's dismissal order and remand the cause for further proceedings.

         Factual Background

         Hawkins owned and resided in a house in DeSoto, Texas for over twenty years. In the summer of 2015, Hawkins was in Chapter 13 bankruptcy and living with her mother while recovering from a hospital stay. At that time, Michael Jenkins expressed an interest in acquiring the DeSoto house because he and his wife wanted to relocate closer to her work. After some negotiation, Hawkins agreed to sell the house to her uncle for $160, 000 and she obtained permission from the bankruptcy court to do so. Hawkins allowed Jenkins and his wife to move into the house while they attempted to obtain financing for the purchase. Jenkins paid Hawkins $1, 500 per month, which was roughly the amount of Hawkins's mortgage payment. The parties dispute whether these payments were rental payments or "house payments."

         To effectuate the purchase, Jenkins filled out a form real estate purchase agreement he obtained online. All three parties signed the contract. By its terms, the contract was made subject to Jenkins being approved for third-party financing. The closing date of the sale was set for February 19, 2016 and title to the property was to be transferred to Jenkins at that time. The contract stated that the cash portion of the sales price payable to Hawkins at closing was $159, 990. There is no mention in the contract of the monthly payments made by Jenkins going towards the purchase price. In addition, the contract stated that,

Possession of the Property in its current or required state, ordinary wear and tear excepted, will be delivered by the Seller to the Buyer pursuant to a temporary residential lease form or any written lease as required by the parties. A tenancy at sufferance relationship will be created between the Parties where there is no authorized written lease agreement and either the Buyer has possession prior to closing or the Seller has possession after closing.

         It is undisputed that Jenkins was unable to obtain financing to purchase the house and the written contract expired under its own terms. The Jenkinses continued to live in the house, however, and pay Hawkins $1, 500 per month. According to Jenkins, he and Hawkins had a "verbal contract" because she "told me that she was going to work with me and sign any papers necessary [to] get transfer of the title once we . . . secured financing." Jenkins testified he made significant improvements to the house including installing a new air conditioning system and building a patio.

         Over the next year and a half, Hawkins was able to negotiate a reduction in the amount she owed on a second lien on the home from $14, 000 to $3, 000 and Jenkins gave her the money to pay off that lien. Additionally, Hawkins obtained debt forgiveness for some of what she owed on the first lien mortgage, reducing the amount owed from approximately $152, 000 to $84, 000.

         In July 2017, Hawkins agreed to provide Jenkins with an $11, 500 "Gift of Equity to Fund a Loan" that allowed Jenkins to obtain third-party financing. After the Jenkinses were approved for a 95% loan, a dispute arose regarding the final purchase price. An email from the loan officer stated that the price had to be adjusted to $175, 000 for the credits and closing costs to work and for Hawkins to be paid the amount she expected to realize from the original $160, 000 purchase price. Jenkins refused to pay a higher sales price claiming he had already paid Hawkins $7, 500, which was the amount of profit she would have received from the $160, 000 sale price based on the original mortgage amount. He also did not believe the house was worth what Hawkins was asking and wanted credit for the improvements he had made to the house. Hawkins stated she never asked for the higher sales price and she denied receiving a $7, 500 payment from Jenkins.

         After the second closing did not occur, Hawkins and Jenkins discussed signing a lease agreement. Jenkins testified that Hawkins told him she would give him credit for the repairs he had done to the house in the lease. But, according to Jenkins, the lease did not reflect what they had discussed, so he refused to sign it. Jenkins then stopped making monthly payments for the house.

         Hawkins brought this forcible entry and detainer action to evict the Jenkinses from the house asserting they were in the house pursuant to a month-to-month tenancy and they continued to reside in the house after failing to pay the rent owed. The case was originally brought in the justice of the peace court and then appealed to the county court at law. After the case was appealed to the county court, the Jenkinses filed a suit to quiet title to the house in district court asserting equitable title to the property. The Jenkinses then filed a plea to the jurisdiction in this case asserting that the title issue rendered the county court without jurisdiction to render judgment. A hearing was conducted at which both Hawkins and Jenkins ...

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